My parents, John Stahr and Elizabeth Dempster, were married sixty years ago today at Stanford Chapel. The minister was my mother’s uncle Milen Dempster.
Milen was a remarkable man: educated in divinity at Harvard, briefly serving as a Unitarian minister, but then running for governor in 1932 as a Socialist, and working thereafter as a community organizer. A quick search reveals that he was the project manager for the construction of Marin City during World War II. “Like other ‘right thinking people,’ New Deal liberals, and leftists, Dempster saw war housing as an opportunity to create a sense of community among disparate Americans. Dempster [said] that Marin City would house all shipyard workers without regard to ‘religion, race, color, or position in the shipyards.’ When whites protested, Dempster appealed to their patriotism, saying ‘These men are Americans. They are needed just as you are–to build ships.'” Donald Albrecht, ed., World War II and the American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation, p. 129.
I mention this by way of background to one of the items my mother handed me today: the form of marriage which Milen Dempster used on January 7, 1955. It is not “straight out of the prayer book,” it is Milen’s own writing, reflecting his own views on marriage and life, typed on his own typewriter. Here is how he started the service:
“Dearly beloved, we have gathered here to solemnize the union of this man and this woman in the bonds of marriage; which is an honorable and holy estate, founded upon the laws of our being, cherished and guarded through the ages, and crowned with the sanction of the Most High for the well-being and happiness of mankind. Therefore it is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly and advisedly. To be true, this outward ceremony must be but a symbol of that which inner and real–a sacred union of hearts, which the Church may bless and the State may legalize–which neither the Church nor the State can make or unmake. To be a happy marriage, there must be devotion of each to the other, and of both, to the noblest ends in life.”
That is a rather different, and daunting, definition of marriage: devotion of each to the other and of both to the noblest ends in life. My parents may not be the most openly affectionate couple, but they are devoted to one another. And they have each given so much over so many years to so many causes, including Stanford, Newport Beach public library, Pacific Symphony, Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. Devotion to the noblest ends in life.